Lex Blondin picks 10 Records that Shaped, Improved and Formed him

France’s Lex Blondin is one of the defining figures of London’s booming jazz scene. With his Total Refreshment Center, he has created what is probably the most important contact point for young British musicians. His own ensemble, the New Regency Orchestra, is also on the rise. We asked him about his ten most defining records.

One venue associated with the British jazz explosion of the mid-2010s is the Total Refreshment Centre. Frenchman Lex Blondin, who moved to London from Paris in 2005, transformed a former chocolate factory on Foulden Road in London’s Hackney district into a jazz club with an adjoining recording studio complex and artists’ studios in 2012. A meeting place for creatives. Saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings, drummers Yussef Dayes and Moses Boyd and many other figures who are shaping modern jazz today started out from here.

Creating interfaces

The Total Refreshment Center’s concert stage was forced to close in 2019 due to noise complaints from neighbors. What remained was the recording studio and the artist community. A label has been created. Lex Blondin is still in the thick of it and is trying to promote the Total Refreshment Center as a brand to the world. Last year, in collaboration with the legendary Blue Note label, he released the compilation »Transmissions From Total Refreshment Centre«, which features the next generation of musicians such as Resavoir, Soccer96 and Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange.

In recent years, he has also focused on his own ensemble, the 18-piece New Regency Orchestra, which is dedicated to the Afro-Cuban side of jazz and has just released its self-titled debut album Mr Bongo. “My favorite formations in jazz are trios and 18-piece orchestras,” comments Lex Blondin, who is also a passionate record collector and DJ, on one of the ten records that have shaped, improved and formed him. The selection also reveals his influence from hip-hop, which runs like a red thread through his work.

Art Farmer 
 Work Of Art
New Jazz • 1965 •

Lex Blondin: I first heard the tune »Mau Mau« on comps, it’s a kind of latin jazz tune with a very wavy clave that’s all over the place rather than doing its job as a syncopated metronome. The clave never bugged me as I just love the looseness it gives to the track. But I remember curating some tracks to be played live by a little Cojunto we put together for a TRC gig, I think it was Jimmy Martinez on bass and Noda on congas …They weren’t too impressed with that clave! The whole album is an absolute gem from start to finish.

The Unseen
Stones Throw • 2000 • from 31.99€

Lex Blondin: It’s so rare to get a LP, hip hop or not, where all the tracks are on point AND you keep on noticing things you hadn’t heard before. Madlib’s production is so inimitable , instantly recognizable. I think you could get AI to recreate a Dj Premier beat quite well (No offense Preemo!), but Madlib ? No chance.. It’s wizardry at this stage!

Curtis Mayfield
Antarctica Starts Here • 1971 • from 30.99€

Lex Blondin: Probably my favourite live album ever… You can fully feel the atmosphere of the intimate club wrapping the funk of Curtis and his band, the audience at times laughing at his jokes or approving of his political chats with a »right on!« It's a whole vibe.

Ahmad Jamal
ABC Records • 1968 •

Lex Blondin: Das Klavierspiel von Ahmad Jamal ist unverkennbar. Das ist eine Konstante in der Musik, die ich suche, dieses 90-bpm-Headbopper-Gefühl… Der Track »When I Look In Her Eyes« hat einen Beat, der für mich sehr nach Hip-Hop klingt, mit Jamil Sulieman, der ihn unterstreicht, und Ahmad Jamals Klavier, das sich darum dreht… Das ist perfekt! Meine Lieblingsformationen im Jazz sind Trios und 18-köpfige Orchester!

Mobb Deep
The Infamous
Loud Records • 1995 • from 33.99€

Lex Blondin: The year is 1995, I'm 11 and obsessed with skateboarding and hip hop. When this came out it encapsulated the inner city sound like nothing else. It hasn't aged one bit and the feeling still remains to this day! Q-Tip oversaw a lot of the beats on here and you can tell by the choice of drum sound, effects etc. The production on this is very special indeed.

Mos Def
Black On Both Sides
Geffen • 1999 • from 46.99€

Lex Blondin: I’ve been a fan of Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey since his Sound Bombing / Black Star days but when this album came out it went beyond the usual hip hop boom bap landscape we were used to seeing him and I fell in love instantly. I remember seeing him play with his visual artist friend Anuar Khalifi in Barcelona a couple years ago and it felt like two kids messing around with Anuar playing everything from Brazilian funk to metal with Yassin rhyming on it all. His versatility as an artist is very inspiring to me.

Beastie Boys
Ill Communication
Capitol • 1994 • from 33.99€

Lex Blondin: It’s difficult to even pick on of the Beastie’s album as favourite, but »Ill Communication« is the one I remember head banging to as a kid and it never grew old! The first gig I ever went to was the Beastie Boys in Paris for the launch of their »Hello Nasty« album. I love how the band kept on reinventing themselves and keeping things fun and fresh.

Hugh Masekela
I Am Not Afraid
Blue Thumb • 1974 •

Lex Blondin: When is it too many Masekela albums? I’m definitely getting there. Again, really hard to pick one but this one has some of my favorite cuts on it. Anything from the late 60’s to the mid 70’s is beautiful from this man.

Gus Colon & Orchestra Colon 
Salsa Universal
Rico Records • 1976 •

Lex Blondin: I found this one whilst looking for records produced by one of the most talented salsa trumpet player and arranger, Tony Pabòn. The track »Asi Vivo Yo« runs at 90bpm and would get any rude boy to throw a little salsa step on the side. Beautifully recorded and mixed as well..

Letieres Leite & Orkestra Rumpilezz
Moacir De Todos Os Santos
Lusofonia Record Club • 2022 • from 28.99€

Lex Blondin: Brazilian big band samba jazz at its absolute finest , covering the compositions of the great Moacir Santos is match made in heaven . I have had this album on repeat since it came out!